An explanation...

Why Foob? I had a double mastectomy, and at the time, the plastic surgeon put "expanders" under the muscles in my chest. Every 2-3 weeks, they were filled with more saline, in preparation for my reconstructive surgery. They were very full and hard. Uncomfortable. One time, one of my sons gave me a hug and then said "Your foobs are hard!" Hee, hee, hee! My kids have this endearing habit of combining words. So, "Foobs" are fake boobs. Which I will still have, even after the reconstruction.

Foob Babe - that would be me!
"The only courage that matters is the kind that gets you from one moment to the next." ~Mignon McLaughlin


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Friday, September 18, 2009

I Find Out - I HAVE CANCER...

After I had a needle-guided biopsy, the waiting began. Don't you hate it when the results from tests take FOREVER?! The waiting was hard. I just wanted to know. I felt like the world should just stop and hold it's breath until my results came in. I mean, how long could it possibly take to check for cancer?! I called the surgeon's office on Monday and Tuesday, asking if the results were back. He gently explained that it was a complicated thing they had to do - first they had to dye the tissue, then they had to slice it up - like slicing bread - and then they had to test each tiny piece to make sure we got everything. If any little bit of the DCIS was touching the dyed area, then the "borders" wouldn't be clear and we'd have to go back in and take more out.

So, I tried to be patient. I went to work on Wednesday, and it was hard to concentrate. By early afternoon, I figured another day had gone by without results. As my boss, and friend, Carol, was walking out the door at around 3:15 pm, my cell phone rang. She hesitated, and I looked at the caller ID. "It's the surgeon's office." Carol came back in as I answered the phone. It was Dr. Robinson. He said, "Kara, we got the results of your biopsy back. (Right then, I figured it had to be negative, because why would he tell me I have cancer over the phone?!). "You've got two kinds of breast cancer." Just like that. A simple statement. You've got cancer.

How many people have heard those terrible, frightening words? I bet every one of you who has heard those words remembers where you were when you heard them. It's not something that I ever thought I'd hear. I looked at Carol, and nodded. She sank down on the sofa. I somehow found myself sitting down in my chair. I continued to just listen...

"You've got two kinds of cancer. One is non-invasive. It's the Ductal Carcinoma In Situ that we talked about. But, as they were slicing the tissue open, they found a small tumor. That is invasive. This changes things."
"Well, we'll need to check the surrounding tissue - especially check the lymph nodes to see if it has spread... blah, blah, blah..."
... and I was sucked into the world of cancer speak. Another biospy. Didn't get it all. Sentinal lymph node dissection. Possibly chemo. Maybe mastectomy (ok, I didn't hear that - I just thought it). The surgeon tried to explain where we needed to go from there. It was hard to listen and comprehend. I look at Carol the whole time. It's like she kept me grounded. If she wouldn't have been there, I couldn't have held it together. I calmly made an appointment to see the surgeon again. Then, I hung up the phone.

"Kara, I'm so sorry." Carol was in tears. Her mom had died from breast cancer. I realized then what awful news this was for her to hear. And then she said, "Shantel and I just knew it would be positive." Huh?!
"What do you mean, you knew?"
"We just felt like there was a huge change coming for you - that the test results would be positive." Huh. Ok.

Carol went home, and I got into my car to head to an appointment I had. Again, I thought the world would just stop and hold it's breath for a minute. But, nothing like that happened. I called my husband. Here's how the conversation went...

"Hi, what's up?"
"Well, I got the results from the biopsy back."
"I've got two kinds of breast cancer." Pause.
"What?" I repeat myself.
"Yes, yes I do."
"No you don't. Who told you that?"

Isn't it just maddening when someone won't believe you. Did he think I was making it up?!

"Yes, Rick, I just talked to the surgeon. He found the DCIS, which is non-invasive, but they also found a tumor that didn't show up on the mammogram. That's invasive. I have breast cancer." Another long pause.

You see, neither Rick nor I thought for even one second that the test results would be positive. Neither one of us saw this coming. It just kind of hit us like a brick wall.
"I'm so sorry, Kara. Do you want me to come home right now? I don't want you to be alone." Sweet.
"Nope, I'm going to get my nails done."
"What?! No - you can't do that."
"Look, I need NORMAL! I need to do something normal right now. I can't just sit and think about this. I'll go crazy."

We finished our conversation, and I headed to get my nails done. On the way, I called my mom and my sister. My mom was calm and reassuring. My sister was hysterical - for a minute - and then she calmed down. You see, she had just lost her sister-in-law to breast cancer a few month earlier. What a nightmare. I found out much later that my mother had hung up the phone and collapsed on the floor. Into a fetal position. My dad couldn't get her up. She just lay there, sobbing. I'm glad I didn't know that at the time. I needed my mom's strength. She never showed anything but a positive, fighting attitude when she was around me.

When I got home, I had the very unpleasant task of telling my children. My oldest was off serving an LDS mission in Japan - he'd been gone for almost a year and a half. I called the mission home and talked to the president of the mission. (you can't just call and talk to you son - it's not allowed). The president told me to write a letter to Grant and mail it asap. He would personally give it to Grant and be there to talk to him. So, I sat down and wrote the letter. It was a hard one to write - I mean, what do you say? I tried to be upbeat and positive... Everything was going to be fine - don't worry. Forget about me and yourself, and burying yourself in the work - Heavenly Father will take care of things, etc.

(His reaction to the letter? He emailed me - "I knew you would have cancer. I just had a feeling when you told me you had been sick that you'd have cancer." Funny thing - after my previous email told him that I wasn't feeling well and was having tests done, he emailed me back and said, "Well, don't get cancer! HAHA!" Yeah. Then, the next thing he knows, he gets a letter telling him I have cancer!)

Then, I had to tell my 18 year old. His reaction? "Yeah, I knew this was going to happen." Again, HUH?! He said, "It's going to be ok, Mom."

Then I told my 14 year old. "What? What does that mean?" He was worried. But I reassured him.

Then, last of all, I told my 11 year old. "Matthew, remember the surgery I had? Well, the doctor called and he said that I have breast cancer." "That sucks. What does it mean?" "It's ok. I have a really good doctor, and he is going to make me better. I'll be sick for awhile, and probably have another surgery, but I'll be fine after that. Ok?" "Ok." And then he went back to playing his video game. I loved his reaction the best.

I don't blame anyone for reacting the way they did - denying, crying, questioning, etc. What would you do? You hear this awful thing and it's hard to cover up that first reaction. Anyway, the weird thing about that day was what came out of everyone's mouths: "I knew it. We knew the test results would be positive." Every person, except me and Rick, KNEW I'd have breast cancer. Even my kids. The only explanation I could come up with... Heavenly Father prepared every one of them to hear that news. He prepared them! He helped them deal with it. I'm so glad that happened.

It was a hard day - possibly the hardest one to that point. And I had NO IDEA what was coming. But, I knew I had the love and support of every person around me.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sense of smell triggers emotions

Something weird happened to me this morning in the shower. Last year, during most of my surgeries and during chemo, I used this body wash soap (Olay Ribbons with lotion). But, I haven't used it for quite awhile. This morning I opened the bottle and used it. Mistake. As soon as I smelled the soap (which actually smells really good), I started having flash backs to all of that awful stuff! It was so weird. I thought about showering with drains in my chest, showering with just barely enough energy to get in and get out, showering and almost fainting from sickness, etc. It was very unpleasant. The same thing has happened to me when I've used the body powder with the chamomile scent that I used during chemo.

Isn't that weird? Has this happened to anyone else? I guess our sense of smell triggers memories and emotions. Interesting.

By-the-way, I won't be using those products anymore. Yeah.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Self Exam

Today's the day to do your breast self exam!

Get into the habit once a month. It could save your life!

Breast cancer sucks. You DON'T want to find out how much.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Really? Another surgery?

Boys... (my sons), if you are reading this, I'm going to talk about the "B" word again, so you might want to go read something else!

On August 25th, I went to see my plastic surgeon, Dr. Bishop, to do a post-surgery checkup. I've spent the last month pushing down on the right implant, trying to get it to go down and be even with the left one. But, it hasn't moved yet. Darn it. So, we are going to keep pushing on it for another 4 weeks. If it still doesn't move, then I've got a decision to make. It's really not that bad - the middle of the breasts (nipple reconstruction) is only about a finger width difference. But, um, you can tell they are kind of lopsided. Oh, and the right one is rounded up higher than the left one. It looks fine in a bra, but not without one. You might think I'm just being too picky. At least I have them, for crying out loud! You are right. I am being picky. But, here's the thing... I know my doctor can fix it. And I don't WANT to go around lop-sided. It's as simple as that. If I have to have fake boobs, I want them to look good.

So, Dr. B (not the same as my oncologist, Dr. B) asked me which one I like better. Hahahahaha! I told him I like the right one better. He said that if it didn't go down to match the left one in a month, then I'd go back in for another surgery - this time he'd make a cut into the side of my left "boob" and pull the implant out. Then he'd go in and suture the muscle underneath where the implant goes, then he'd put the implant back in. That should make both sides look even. Then, when I'm finally healed, I'll have the tatooing - putting color on the nipple area. No one really wants me to go in for another surgery (this will be by seventh), but THEY don't have to live with crooked boobs. So, they don't get to make that decision - I do. :-)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Herceptin - the wonder drug.

It's been awhile since I've posted. I'm still trying to come to terms with the fact that it's been a year since I started this journey. I've read through my last post a few times, and it hits me the same every time! I can't stop crying when I read about everything I've been through. I wish it was over, but it's not. I'm still getting Herceptin every 3 weeks.

Herceptin is a miracle drug. I started it when I started chemo. It's an antibody drug used in the treatment of breast cancer in women with HER2 tumors. HER2 = human epidermal growth factors receptor 2. Wow, that's a mouth full! The HER2 protein is a genetic defect found in some tumors. This protein causes a tumor to be more aggressive. My doctor explained that it causes cancer to become a super cancer - the growth rate of tumors with HER2 is accelerated. He told me that before Herceptin was developed, women with HER2 were dying in early stages of cancer, because nothing would work to block the HER2. Dr. B had a cool way of explaining chemo and herceptin. He said that the chemo goes into your body like a bomb - it just explodes and goes everywhere. That's why, not only does it kills the cancer, it "kills" other healthy things, like your hair, nails, inside of your mouth and down your throat, etc. Herceptin, on the other hand, goes into your body like a missile - straight to the HER2 protein and kills it. So, the great thing about Herceptin is that there are very few side effects. Unlike chemo, Herceptin doesn't hurt the healthy parts of your body. Oh, except for your heart. Yep. It's funny - I'm sitting here reading an information page that I got from the chemo center about Herceptin, and nowhere does it say it can damage your heart! Here's what it says...

The drug is given by IV, and during administration of the drug there is a chance you may experience sweating, chills, and possibly fever. ALSO, Herceptin can possibly cause: nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea, headache and fatigue, tremors, insomnia, and lowered white blood count with increased potential for infections. I really wish I would have read this BEFORE now. I've been on Herceptin for almost a year and I thought I would have NO side effects. So, I've always thought it was weird that every time I get a Herceptin treatment, I get a headache. And I feel kind of yucky - like I'm getting the flu. It doesn't last long, and is NOTHING like chemo, but still... it would have been nice to know that was normal. Geez!

Now, about the heart thing. My doctor has been doing these scans called MUGA scans. They are pretty cool. A MUGA scan is performed by taking some of my blood and attaching a radioactive substance to the red blood cells. Then they inject the red blood cells back into my bloodstream. Then they put me under a special camera (a gamma camera), which is able to detect the low-level radiation being given off by the red cells. Since the red blood cells (including those that are radio-labelled) fill the cardiac chambers, the image produced by the gamma camera is essentially an outline of those chambers. With some fancy computer manipulation, the final product is a movie of the heart beating. (Wow, I sound pretty smart! I'm not - I just googled MUGA scan.) I've had 3 of these (I think). My cancer doc has been watching my heart carefully for the past year. So, last week, when I went to get my Herceptin treatment, he read the results from the latest scan. He was concerned because my heart function (pumping blood) had dropped quite a bit. He explained that if our hearts pumped perfectly, they would pump 100% of the blood out each time they pumped, but they aren't perfect. So, "normal" for our hearts is 50-75%. My first few scans had me at 61%. This last scan was 51%. Hm. So, Dr. B wouldn't give me Herceptin until I had a Cardio MRI. So, last Friday, I had one. I'll have to write another post describing that - right now I can't talk about it. I'm still feeling claustrophobic! Anyway, yesterday I went back to the cancer center and found out that my percentage had gone up to 59% and I was given the go-ahead to have another Herceptin treatment. I guess that's a good thing. I only have about 3 more treatments total, so it looks like I'll get to finish a full course of Herceptin. Yay for me.